Rum, rhum, ron, what ever you want to call it, is a drink that has bewitched me and become something of an obsession. I, of course, am not the first to succumb to the pleasures of this potent brew; it was the preferred tipple of pirate and admiralty captains alike; kept the navy in ‘good spirits'; fueled Hemingway’s bacchanalian adventures; and perhaps even soothed the conscience of Richard Nixon, who drank it with coke. There is, however, a flip-side to all of this inebriety, as man’s thirst for rum was directly responsible for driving the slave trade of the sugar plantations, and worse still, for the production of cheap, factory made swill that was disguised in Malibu laced, smuttily named cocktails and frozen concoctions. It may be churlish to say, but for me, this nefarious history seems to only add to its mystic.
My conversion to the joys of rumbustion began in a bar named, bizarrely, after a bourbon drink – Julep. Just a short stagger from Owan, Julep is the go-to place for rum afficiandos – stocking over 300 varieties from around the globe. It’s an intimate space, six counter seats and a couple of tables areas for groups of four, with moody lighting, jazzy beats and a chilled out vibe that appeals to the area’s sophisticated demographic.
Sidling up to the small bar, you will be greeted on most nights by the informed Yamamoto-san, or if you are lucky, by the owner, Sato-san. In either case you are in good hands because these chaps know their rum and revel in an opportunity to convert new devotees. Sato-san is a Ron Zacapa Ambassador, as well as a founder of R.U.M. JAPAN
, an organisation whose aim is for “the recognition, propagation and rooting of rum in Japan.” In these dual roles he travels the globe to immerse himself in the culture of the areas where rum is produced, meet local producers and sample as much of the amber nectar as humanly possible. Nice work if you can get it, eh?
Presented with a thick leather bound volume, which constitutes as the drinks menu, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the varieties on offer: Cuba, Trinidad, Haiti, Venezuela, even India and Madagascar are represented. Sensing our bewilderment, Sato-san came to the rescue, “How about starting out with a cocktail?” Okay, lets!
We began with a Havana mojito, which was made with hefty handfuls of fresh mint, and a canchanchara, made with a generous dollop of golden honey and freshly squeezed lime. Both were sensational – a great entree to the proceedings.
With one round under our belts and a bit of Dutch courage, we tackled the rum menu. I ordered the Nicaraguan Zapatera Reserva Vintage 1996, which was dark and full bodied with flavors reminiscent of vanilla, toffee, oak and cocoa.
The Athenian requested the driest rum they had, which turned out to be the Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1997 (10 Years Old), from Martinique. In contrast to the Zapatera this rum has a much lighter amber hue, with rich herbal/spicy notes and a long clean finish. A great sipping rum to take your time over.
For the next round I went with the 23 year old Ron Zacapa, from Guatemala, that I had enjoyed on a previous visit. I was not disappointed. For me this is the epitome of a great rum; deep mahogany in colour, rich and complex flavour of butterscotch, spicy oak and raisined fruit, with a warming aroma of vanilla and roasted nuts. Yum, yum! I feel a sea shanty coming on.
|The Athenian ventured to the continent of Africa for her next tipple, a ten year old Vieux Rhum Dzama, from Madagascar. This fragrant aged golden rum had the flavour of caramalised fruit accented with slightly nutty notes and a hint of, err…banana? Well, that’s what my increasingly illegible notes say.
We sailed back in to the Caribbean (by way of Europe) for our next round; Rum Nation’s Barbados 1995. Rum Nation, the rum division of Italian whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan, started procuring rum in 1999, and specialises in single estate Latino style rums. The Barbados 1995 is characteristic of this Latino style; very sweet and honeyed on the palate, with hints of crushed mint and molasses.
By now we were well and truly adrift on the sea of insobriety with Sato-san, who shall be referred to forever more as Captain Enabler, as our obliging navigator. I was foolhardy enough to ask, “What’s the strongest rum you have?” Without missing a beat Captain Enabler produced a bottle of Forres Park Puncheon Rum, from Trinidad and Tobago. “Puncheon,” he told me, is used to describe a high proof rum – 150% proof, in this case. Despite the obvious warning signs, I ordered a glass. The fumes that emanated from the glass were so strong that I had to make sure all naked flames were snuffed out before I even contemplated putting it anywhere near my face. The first sip was like a punch in the mouth and completely took my breath away. Yikes! Gingerly, I tried again, and once I was past the intense wall of fumes I noticed that when the alcohol evaporated – on contact with my mouth – it left behind the flavour of fresh, clean cane sugar. A revelation! For anyone who is foolhardy enough to take up the Puncheon challenge, the company’s website suggests you “Pour it over crushed ice to improve the aroma, then sip slowly to improve your outlook on life.“ I, on the other hand, would recommend the Sign of the Cross, a round of Hail Marys and a fire extinguisher at the ready – just in case it all goes pear-shaped. You have been warned.
Someone – yes it was me – went off script with the next order: frozen mint mojito. A blasphemy, I know, but it was actually quite delicious. It looks a bit like an alcoholic kakigori, don’t you think?
In need of some respite after all this good grog, we ordered up a selection of nibbles from the limited list of snack options on offer: Smoked cheese, dried fruit and white asparagus pickles. Julep also stocks a comprehensive selection of Cuban and Dominican cigars if you feel so inclined.
While we didn’t drink it, the Saint-Etienne had the Athenian and I reminiscing about our favourite 90’s house group of the same name, and the halcyon ‘daze’ of our misspent youth. Ahh, wistful tales of younger, more nubile days are always the beginning of the end.
While the Athenian went back to her preferred dry style of Martinique, I indulged my sweet tooth with a Havanese Arecha Elixir de Ron. This rich and decadently sweet drop is more like a rum liqueur than a rum. It is dark, viscous and honey-like in texture – check out the legs on the side of the glass – with warming notes of oak, nutmeg and spice.
Last drinks had been called two rounds ago, and Captain Enabler now became Captain I-regret-to-inform-you-it-is-3:30am by presenting us with a pirate’s ransom of a bill. Time to jump ship.
Back on the street we had warm hearts and lungs full of song, and despite listing dangerously, were keen to splice up the mainbrace one more time.
“Fancy an after drink drink?”
I guess that’s why it’s called the Demon Water. Hic!